Good morning Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
I am pleased to be here today to speak about my mandate and experience as Commissioner of Lobbying.
I have been part of the federal lobbying regime for 12 years, and the deputy head for eight years. It is an honour to be the first Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada and to have had the opportunity to establish its first fully independent office.
As Commissioner of Lobbying, my role is to administer and ensure compliance with the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct. The act and the code contribute to the confidence of Canadians in the integrity of government decision-making by ensuring lobbying activities are conducted in a transparent manner and according to the highest ethical standards.
Much has been accomplished since I became commissioner. I am grateful for the opportunity given to me to guide the lobbying regime in its early stages, establish an office with a highly skilled group of professionals, and put all the elements in place to ensure transparency and accountability in lobbying.
I am particularly proud of the new Lobbyists' Code of Conduct, which I brought into force in December 2015. Unlike the lobbying legislation, which has been amended several times over the past two decades, the code had not changed since it came into force in 1997. Given the importance of the code in outlining the high ethical standards expected of lobbyists, I felt it was important to hear from key stakeholder groups to ensure it was as strong and clear as it should be.
I am also proud that the Canadian model stands out among countries with lobbying legislation. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD, established 10 principles for transparency and integrity in lobbying that should be part of a lobbying regime. The Canadian regime reflects these principles. Many countries believe that there is much to be learned from Canada and have sought advice and expertise from my office over the years.
I have put three excellent programs in place to deliver on my mandate: namely, to establish a registry, raise awareness through education, and ensure compliance with both the act and the code.
The registry of lobbyists is at the forefront of online registration systems and is considered to be a model for similar offices around the world. I made significant investments in the registry to make it secure, searchable, and user-friendly, so lobbyists can easily disclose their lobbying activities and Canadians can access the wealth of information on federal lobbying.
As I mentioned at my last appearance, we successfully moved the hosting of the registry to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. This provides more control over system development of the registry.
For individuals to comply with any legislation or codes of conduct, they must understand their responsibilities and obligations. I was pleased that Parliament recognized the importance of outreach and education when a specific provision was added to the Lobbying Act, giving me an explicit mandate in this regard.
Since 2008, my staff and I have met with more than 8,000 stakeholders. We intensified outreach activities around regulatory changes, such as the introduction of the Lobbying Act, the amendment of the designated public office holder regulations, and the coming into force of the new Lobbyists' Code of Conduct.
During the consultations held on the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct, I heard from about 200 individuals, associations, organizations and corporations. The views expressed helped me develop the new code and get buy-in from key stakeholders. I believe the code is changing behaviours by making what is expected of lobbyists clearer.
While education and outreach are important for ensuring compliance, they must be accompanied by a strong enforcement regime and by demonstrated consequences in cases of breaches.
Since becoming commissioner, I have closed 173 administrative review files and 22 investigations, including 40 files inherited from my predecessor, the former registrar of lobbyists. Results of closed files are anonymized for privacy reasons and posted on my office's website.
I have tabled 10 reports to Parliament concerning breaches of the code by 12 lobbyists. Two of the reports demonstrate how the intersection of lobbying and political activities performed by lobbyists on behalf of public office holders can give rise to apparent conflicts of interest.
Over the last eight years, I have referred 14 files to the RCMP for investigation. Four individuals have been charged with Lobbying Act offences and three convicted. Three other files remain under RCMP investigation.
In July 2013 there was a historic first conviction for a breach of the Lobbying Act, specifically for failure to register as a consultant lobbyist. The conviction resulted in a fine of $7,500. Following the conviction, I used my authority under the Lobbying Act to prohibit the individual from lobbying for a period of four months. I believe the conviction and the subsequent prohibition sent a message to anyone involved in lobbying the federal government that contravening the act carries consequences.
In May 2016 a second conviction under the Lobbying Act imposed a fine of $20,000 for failing to register under the act. This is currently under appeal.
In September 2016 a third individual was found guilty of three counts of lobbying while subject to the five-year prohibition on lobbying. The crown prosecutor has suggested a fine of $50,000 for all three counts. This first conviction for lobbying while prohibited under the Lobbying Act underscores that the prohibition should not be taken lightly.
As deputy head, I delivered on my mandate by establishing a solid and efficient organization. I established sound governance, well-documented budget and planning processes, and rigorous management practices.
I also entered into service agreements with other federal government departments and agencies in areas such as human resources management, financial services and information technology. This was an efficient way to leverage limited resources and capitalize on a wide range of competencies needed to fulfill my responsibilities as deputy head in the most economical way possible.
In 2013, the Auditor General accepted my invitation to audit our financial statements and controls. I am pleased to say that each year the office has received an unmodified opinion, which means that the financial statements were presented fairly in all material respects.
I have presented to you a number of accomplishments that I realized during my mandate. I have learned a lot over my tenure as commissioner. I would like to share with you some thoughts for your consideration.
First, as a regulator I found that it was important not only to administer and enforce the act and the code but also to educate the public that lobbying is a legitimate activity that plays an important role in democracy. Government decision-makers cannot operate in a vacuum. Sound decision-making requires knowledge about risks and benefits of choosing one option over another. It is just that it must be done in a transparent manner.
Second is the importance of consultation with stakeholders and considering views when making policy or regulatory changes. I believe the code I put in place is stronger because of the input I received from stakeholders.
Third is that the value of periodic reviews should not be underestimated, especially when it comes to newly enacted legislation such as the Lobbying Act. During the 2012 legislative review, I submitted a special report to the committee. It indicated that while the Lobbying Act was working well in meeting the objectives originally intended by Parliament, there were opportunities for improvement. I suggested nine recommendations that I believed would improve transparency and accountability. Despite a committee and government response, no new legislation was introduced.
As a review is due in 2017, this will be another opportunity to use the benefit of experience in enforcing the act to improve its ability to deliver accountability and transparency while also ensuring open, frank policy discussions between government and stakeholders.
It is an honour to have been the first Commissioner of Lobbying, and I am proud of what I have accomplished over the last eight years. However, my successes would not have been possible without the dedication of my staff. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their support, professionalism and hard work.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my remarks.
I welcome any questions you or any committee members may have.
From what I've seen, transparency and accountability requests have increased in recent years. More and more cities are implementing regimes to enhance accountability in lobbying cases.
The citizens are asking for more information. They want more compliance and transparency. When I think about the future, I wonder what measures we could implement. The monthly reports, for example, could be more transparent. The reports should indicate which lobbyists attend a given meeting. At this time, the reports provide only the name of the person responsible for the organization or business. They don't say who else is in the room. That's something the committee should review. In 2012, I made many recommendations.
The meetings are now oral and arranged in advance. If the lobbyists are lucky, they can have good discussions with MPs on Thursday and Friday evenings, in the break room. The lobbyists can seize these opportunities. In this case, since the event isn't planned in advance, the lobbyists don't have to register it. They must register it themselves, but they aren't required to disclose it in the monthly report.
Regarding transparency, there is also the concept of “a significant part of the duties.” Is that something we could review? My colleagues in the provinces have started basing their calculations on the number of hours. I believe in Ontario, it's 50 hours. It's interesting because that includes more people, but not those who own mom and pop shops.
We have a very strong regime in Canada. However, when I compare it to the regimes of my colleagues in the provinces, I think it's important to have administrative monetary penalties to strengthen the act. On one end, it's part of the continuum of education and oversight. On the other end, there is the transfer of convictions and reports to the RCMP. There should be a mechanism between the two, because it's very important for the regulator to be able to determine the appropriate measure in cases of breaches.
As I said, in terms of transparency, there's no need to change the act. Transparency needs to be reviewed in the monthly reports. If the lobbyist requests the meeting, it must be registered.
It will be easier for me to speak in English.
Right now, if the lobbyist requests the meeting, it's registered. If the public office holder requests the meeting
unless there is some financial benefit,
then it doesn't need to be recorded.
So when you're looking at getting transparency, having the ability to see who is actually attending the meetings, I think, would increase transparency as well.
You can have the CEO of a company or an association listed on the monthly report, as required by the act, but he or she may not even be in attendance at the meeting. So, having the actual lobbyist in attendance is a priority that I would see, looking at the significant part of duties, and from an enforcement perspective, looking at the administrative monetary penalties.
That's okay. I appreciate that you are bringing it up.
I've reviewed this, folks. One of our media outlets has requested to meet personally just before the meeting commenced, and they would like to put up a camera to televise the meeting because this meeting was not able to be televised through the normal broadcast. I think the House of Commons only has the ability to use two or maybe three rooms where they are able to broadcast, and those rooms were all filled up with ministers appearing, so this meeting was not able to be broadcast.
The Standing Orders and the rules in O'Brien and Bosc do permit the recording. There are some rules about that. It has to be an accredited media outlet, and I have every reason to believe this is satisfactory. The camera must be situated in a stationary position, and it must be tied into the House of Commons system. It must be done while we're on a suspension, and it must stay in place until the committee either goes into suspension again or the committee is over.
Now that everybody knows the terms and conditions about how that happens, I seek the committee's guidance. Would you accept a member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery putting a camera up in the room while we're suspended?
Okay, as long as they understand and accept those terms, we'll do so.
We'll suspend for a few moments, and then we'll resume with the Ethics Commissioner.
Thank you, colleagues.
Mr. Chair, and honourable members of the committee, I thank you for inviting me to appear before you today.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to share with you some observations from my experience in administering the Conflict of Interest Act and the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons over the past nine years.
I was appointed Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner effective July 9, 2007, the same day that the Conflict of Interest Act came into force. The members' code had been in effect since 2004.
The act and the members' code have similar rules, but also some key differences. Generally speaking, the members' code is less strict than the act, although more information is disclosed publicly under the members' code than under the act.
When I took office, I set out to apply and interpret both regimes fairly and consistently, with a focus on preventing contraventions. I also undertook to be as transparent as possible.
Given that the act was new, I had to put in place the structures and processes necessary to support its effective administration. Early in my term, I created a legal services unit and an investigations unit, and I developed investigation procedures. I also implemented various process improvements, such as a system of reminders to notify reporting public office holders and members of approaching compliance deadlines. The public registry is accessible online, and my office recently made it possible for reporting public office holders and members to submit their public declarations through a secure electronic portal.
I have built a strong internal management framework that helps to ensure the effective, efficient, and economical use of public resources. When my office was created in its current form, in July 2007, it was given a budget of $7.1 million. I have never had to seek a budget increase. Instead, I have been able to proactively offer several small reductions. My office has lapsed some funds, and that's because, given the nature of my work, I have always maintained a reserve in order to respond to exceptional circumstances, such as an increase in investigation requests or a particularly complex investigation that could significantly impact our workload.
My focus has always been on prevention through education, outreach, and the provision of advice to public office holders and members. My goal has been to ensure that public office holders and members have the information and the tools they need to comply with the act and the members' code. A top priority has been, and continues to be, to provide clear information to public office holders and members about their obligations under the act and the members' code. I have issued a number of documents for their guidance, and I made them available on my website. Topics addressed under the act include gifts, fundraising, outside activities, and post-employment.
My office has instituted regular direct communications with reporting public office holders and members, including an annual review of their confidential reports and measures to be taken under the act and the members' code. In 2010, my office started sending an annual letter to those public office holders who are not reporting public office holders, in order to keep in touch with them and to remind them of their obligations under the act. My office also provides confidential advice on an individual basis to public office holders and members. I note that the number of requests for advice has generally increased since I became commissioner to over 2,200 a year, and this is over and above the regular communications.
Although my focus is on prevention, I apply the enforcement provisions of the act and the members' code, as appropriate. Under the act, I can impose administrative monetary penalties up to $500, largely for failures to meet reporting deadlines. I can also issue compliance orders. It took a couple of years to develop internal systems to implement these provisions, but I have found them to be useful tools in ensuring compliance. I have issued quite a few monetary penalties and a number of compliance orders. I can also conduct investigations of possible contraventions of both regimes. Not all of my investigations lead to an examination or an inquiry that results in a report. I follow up on any information related to possible contraventions that come my way, and I often find that there are no grounds to move to a formal examination or inquiry.
I've opened an average of 33 investigative files a year since my appointment. Over the years, the number of published investigative reports has remained fairly constant. I have issued a total of 25 examination reports under the act and seven inquiry reports under the members' code.
The reports on my examinations under the act and inquiries under the members' code have explored important issues such as gifts, post-employment, fundraising, and preferential treatment. In a number of reports, I commented on practices that were not covered by the act and the members' code when I felt it was appropriate to do so.
I believe that my investigation reports have an important educational role, and they can help to prevent contraventions of the act and the members' code.
In keeping with my obligations under the Parliament of Canada Act, I have issued two annual reports each year: one on the administration of the act and one on the administration of the members' code. I'm proud of these reports. They're very comprehensive, and they provide detailed information on my administration of both regimes. They are one method of maintaining a dialogue about my administration of the act and the members' code with members of Parliament and the broader public.
I've used my annual reports to highlight particular issues and challenges under the heading “Matters of Note”. In my last annual report under the act, for example, I discussed political fundraising. The year before I wrote about gifts and other advantages. I also prepare and publish an annual list of sponsored travel under the members' code.
It's been an honour to serve as Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner over these past nine years, but there have been a number of challenges. Given that my title contains the word “ethics”, Canadians at times expect my office to be able to deal with any ethical issues, including those that go well beyond my jurisdiction and mandate.
Partisan political conduct is one example of this. I have suggested that the House of Commons consider implementing a separate set of rules in relation to partisan political contact for members and their staff. My experience has been that public office holders and members want to comply with the act and the members' code. Indeed, I found that the act and the members' code worked well overall. This doesn't mean that there's no room for improvement, and I've recommended a number of possible amendments to the act and the members' code in my annual reports, in my investigation reports, and in my submissions during parliamentary reviews of the two regimes.
I contributed to the one-time statutory review of the act. The recommendations that I submitted to the committee and those that I made elsewhere cover a number of priority areas. They recommend increasing transparency around gifts and other advantages; narrowing the act's overly broad prohibitions against engaging in outside activities and holding controlled assets; establishing some disclosure and public reporting requirements in relation to outside activities, recusals, and gifts for public office holders who are not reporting public office holders; addressing misinformation put into the public domain in relation to investigative work; extending the administrative monetary penalty provisions to cover clear breaches of the act's substantive provisions; strengthening its fundraising and post-employment provisions; and harmonizing the act and the members' code to ensure consistency of language and process where possible.
The review of the act did not result in any amendments, and the committee might wish to take up the study again in the future.
I participated in two reviews of the members' code, and many of my recommendations were reflected in subsequent amendments. These included lowering the disclosure threshold for gifts and prohibiting members who have made a complaint about another member from making the compliant public until I've received it and let the other member know about it, as well as the establishment of some deadlines for the completion of the initial compliance process and the annual review process. These were all very much appreciated.
I will conclude by reiterating that, despite any potential for improvement, the act and the members' code have, in large measure, done their job.
I take great pride in the contribution that I have made in administering the act since its inception and in administering the members' code. I would also like to acknowledge the support of my talented and hard-working staff.
Thank you again for inviting me to appear before you. I will now be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Commissioner Dawson, for being here with us today. You will not be surprised that I have a few questions that are very much in keeping with the statements by my colleague, Mr. Kelly.
In the past year, we have seen that certain bad habits have resurfaced in the Liberal Party. I would like to ask you about this, specifically as regards special access to certain ministers at Liberal Party fundraising activities. This has happened a number of times. The was one of the first to hold such an activity.
Moreover, on October 13, 2016, Mr. Morneau, the , attended an event in Halifax organized by the Laurier Club. The tickets were $1,500 each. There were just 15 or so people in attendance, some of them from the Halifax Port Authority, which falls under federal jurisdiction. Other attendees included major real estate developers in Nova Scotia. They would certainly have an interest in discussing infrastructure, for instance, with the Finance minister, who will soon be delivering an economic update.
Would you consider this an apparent conflict of interest?